EMDHR News Alert
Pretoria, South Africa- Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR) in collaboration with the EMDHR provided a seminar for the Eritrean community in South Africa on Friday 21 November 2014 in Pretoria. The Seminar was attended by Eritreans who live in Johannesburg, Johannesburg, and other towns in South Africa.
It was the first seminar the LHR offered to the Eritrean community in South Africa apart from the day to day individual basis legal assistance and consultations. The Seminar focused, among other issues, around the the following issues:
- General refugee rights in relation to the South African laws and the international refugee conventions;
- Refugee recognition procedures and the work of LHR in relation to the process;
- Government services /grants that refugees are entitled to;
- Counselling in relation to mental health problems, and access to health care;
- The importance of the new anti-torture legislation;
- LHR assistance in relation to Refugee Appeal Board rejection and the cases of those who are waiting for a decision for years and years;
- The prospect of resettlement in a third country;
- Support in relation to corruption and access problems.
- Assistance in the process of refugee ID and permanent residence applications and other relevant documentation needs of the Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers
In the interactive discussions, the participants told the LHR experts the challenges they often face include the rejection by Refugee Status Determination Officers (RSDO) of the Department of Home Affairs. The LHR experts in turn expressed their surprise despite gross human right abuses in Eritrea. In this regard, they reaffirmed their readiness to help the Eritrean community to alleviate the challenges the Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers are facing including assistance to facilitating the permanent residence applications.
LHR further recommended that the Eritrean refugees should collectively lobby the South African government and UNHCR in order to be heard and solve their challenges. The participants also informed LHR experts that there are some agents of the Eritrean regime who are living as a refugees and asylum seekers who often threaten and disrupt the Eritrean refugees efforts to establish their own refugee community that can assist them to lobby for their rights. LHR experts said they also appreciate for sharing such information as it assist them to understand the Eritrean refugees problems and find solutions.
Finally, LHR experts stated their commitment to provide similar educational seminar frequently to the Eritrean refugees in collaboration with the EMDHR. They also reiterated their commitment to litigate cases of the Eritrean asylum seekers and refugee in order to minimize the large number of rejections. In this regard, the EMDHR expressed its readiness to provide all the necessary support and information to LHR and other stakeholders who are willing to provide support to Eritreans in South Africa. The Eritrean refugees and asylum seekers expressed their appreciation for the support they have been provided by LHR. Similarly, the EMDHR would like to express its immense gratitude to the experts and the LHR at large for their unrelenting efforts to help asylum seekers and refugees and their collaboration with the EMDHR.
Lawyers for Human Rights are an independent human rights organization with a 30-year track record of human rights activism and public interest litigation in South Africa. LHR uses the law as a positive instrument for change and to deepen the democratization of South African society. To this end, it provides free legal services to vulnerable, marginalized and indigent individuals and communities, both non-national and South African, who are victims of unlawful infringements of their constitutional rights.
EMDHR Refugee Protection Office
Pretoria, South Africa
05 December 2014
German Police Arrest 11 Human Trafficking Gangs
International investigators have arrested an alleged smuggling gang. The eleven men to be responsible for the deaths of about 300 boat people. Police also shows the ruthlessness of the gang ring.
Tilmann Kleinjung, ARD Radio Studio Rome |www.tagesschau.de| December 3, 2014
The men are fromEritreaand should be part of a major smuggling ring brings the refugees from Africa to Europe. Half of all sailing from Libyan coasts to Italy organized by criminal network, not always with a happy ending: the eleven arrested smugglers are also responsible for the death of about 300 boat people, accused of two accidents in May and June last year before the Libyan migrant drowning.
The smuggling activity is not only to transport in overloaded, barely ocean-going vessels. The traffickers are active in various African and European countries and organize according to the police and the further transport of refugees after landing in Italy.
A suspect – apparently a leading figure in the smuggling ring – was arrested in Germany. He shall be responsible under the Federal Police for a crossing where in June this year killed up to 244 Africans.
Another discovery of police shows the ruthlessness of smuggling ring: In a shed at Catania in Sicily nine Somalis were found, eight of them were minors. They were detained there until relatives have money transferred for further transport.
Police Pick smuggling ring of
A renewed conscription drive in Eritrea has led to a sharp increase in the number of youths fleeing to neighbouring Ethiopia, a UN refugee agency spokeswoman has told the BBC.
More than 6,000 Eritreans had claimed asylum in Ethiopia in the past 37 days, double the rate seen in previous months, Karin de Gruijl said.
There has also been a rise in the number of Eritreans reaching Italy.
Eritrea says conscription is needed because of tension with Ethiopia.
About 100,000 people died in the 1998-2000 border war between the two countries.
Eritrea became independent after breaking away from Ethiopia.
The refugees, most of whom were between 18 and 24 years old, reported an "intensification" of efforts to conscript them into the army, Ms De Gruijl told the BBC's Newsday programme.
"We know that officially national services are for about four and a half years but quite often they're open-ended," she said.
"This intensification of recruitment has sparked fear among young people in this age group who don't want to have this perspective of not knowing how long they will have to serve."
EPDP Information Office
A delegation of the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) on Tuesday, 19 November 2014, held extensive discussions with senior officials of the Swiss Social Democratic Party and with the Swiss Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs.
The EPDP delegation availed itself in Bern upon a formal invitation from the Swiss capital to exchange notes with concerned organs of the Swiss Social Democratic Party as well as for updating the Swiss Federal authorities on the ever worsening situation in Eritrea.
Consisting of EPDP’s head for foreign relations, Mr. Woldeyesus Ammar, and Swiss branch leadership members Messrs. Tesfagaber Ghebre and Fitwi Kifle, the Eritrean delegation raised many hot issues that it wished to be addressed by Switzerland in close cooperation with other countries and multi-lateral organizations. The delegation also submitted memoranda: one to the SP/PS president, Mr. Christian Levrat, and in the afternoon meeting at the Foreign Ministry, to the Swiss Foreign Minister and current President of the country, Mr. Didier Burkhalter.
The meeting in the morning hours was conducted with the International Secretariat of Switzerland’s second largest party, well known by its acronyms of SP in the German and Romansh speaking cantons (Socialdemokratische Partei) and PS (Parti Socialiste; Partito Socialista) in the French and Italian speaking cantons.
In the first meeting, the EPDP delegation urged the SP/PS leadership to push the Federal Swiss Government to make active and effective involvement in helping Eritrea and its people to come out of the critical situation they are in. The Swiss party was also asked to initiate a wider discussion of the problem in Eritrea as well as the general situation in the Greater Horn of Africa region at a special meeting of the Progressive Alliance, of which both SP/PS and EPDP are members, with the aim of addressing the ongoing ‘failed state’ phenomenon.
General issues considered at both the meetings with the SP/PS and, in the afternoon session, with the Foreign Ministry included discussion on the ever worsening situation inside Eritrea; areas on which pressure should be exerted; and what joint regional and international measures could taken to improve the lot of the Eritrean refugees in the Horn of Africa region and those already in Switzerland. In particular, the EPDP delegation earnestly requested that the recently formed coordination body of Eritrean political and civil society groups in Switzerland be approached for consultation and joint work to help young Eritreans in Switzerland who have no adequate education background to fit to the new environment they are in.
Excerpts from the memorandum to the Swiss Federal Ministry for Foreign Affairs can summarize the gist of the issued proposed for action at the level of Switzerland.
1. Exerting Pressure on the Asmara regime
- Assist in organizing international pressure on the dictatorial regime to end the limitless “national service” it started two decades ago;
- Allow ICRC as well as the UN Commission of Inquiry and the UN Human Rights Rapporteur for Eritrea to visit the over 300 prisons in the country where inmates are kept for many years without recourse to a court of law;
2. Normalization of relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia
- The excuse given as a stumbling block for better relations is the border problem. Both countries can, and must be advised, to show readiness for compromise.
- In particular, there is a need of pressurizing Ethiopia through different means to accept the final and binding decision of the arbitration boundary commission
3. Active support for Eritrean refugees in the Horn, and in Switzerland
- Initiate a special package project for academic and vocational education in East Sudan and North Ethiopia partly using technical development resources that several countries suspended from Eritrea due to the human rights condition there. Switzerland can lead this initiative.
- The tens of thousands of Eritreans in Switzerland are young and without proper education. Giving special attention for their education and skill building would make them better citizens upon their possible return to Eritrea.
4. Assist in bringing about a positive change in Eritrea
- The best option that could be taken by fraternal parties and governments is bringing about change in the system of governance in Eritrea where the majority of the population is opposed to the existing repressive regime.
- One way of doing it is through empowering Eritrean non-state actors (mainly by reaching the civil society and political movements in diaspora) through active support for capacity building.
EPDP Information Office
Sources from Asmara and the Vatican confirm that two priests of the Eritrean Catholic Church were arrested by security agents of the dictatorial regime during the first week of November.
The arrested priests belong to the Capuchin order of the Catholic Church. They are Aba/Father Eyob Gheresus, 77, director of Church’s printing press, and AbaTesfai Debas, 60, head of finances, who served in Harerghe, Ethiopia, until the mass expulsion of Eritreans from that country in 1998.
The sources did not want to hint as to the alleged reasons for the current arrest. The sources also confirmed the report in Eritrean websites indicating that the two priests were taken to the Adi Abeyto prison in the outskirts of the Eritrean capital, Asmara.
Meanwhile, 10 members of several Eritrean monasteries of the Orthodox Tewahdo Church have crossed the border to Ethiopia in the past few days fearing imminent arrest by the security apparatus of the regime, probably because of the 1 October 2014 condemnation and excommunication of regime-appointees who promoted, inter alia, corruption and misrule in the Church.
After 27 years of dictatorship and brutality, the dictator of Burkina Faso, Blaise Campaore who came to power through coup d’état in 1987, fled in disgrace to the neighboring country of Ivory Coast on October 31 following massive protests and unrests that went to the extent of storming and burning his Party’s Headquarters and other government buildings in the capital city of Ouagadougou. The popular uprising was set off by Blaise’s attempt to amend the two term limit provision stipulated in the country’s constitution in order to prolong his reign, which is unconstitutional. But nothing is new here; when things do not go in their favor, it is a common practice for many African authoritarian leaders to repeal term limit, amend it, or come up with a new one in order to stay in power for life.
Yet, for the people of Burkina Faso, the term limit was only a catalyst in the ouster of president Blaise from power; the protest was against the three decades of absolute rule of president Blaise that brought poverty and inequality, political repression, as well as deprivation of fundamental social and political rights. Again, tens of thousands protesters showed up in the streets of Ouagadougou, and the popular rage instantaneously reached a level of no return and forced Campaore to flee the country. They chanted liberty; they chanted justice; they demanded constitutional democracy; they told their leaders to stop manipulating their country’s constitution.
Yes, the people of Burkina Faso won; their revolution toppled the one-man dictatorial rule that lasted for 27 years in just few days. Yes, the downfall of president Blaise also brought thrills and new hopes in Burkina Faso. However, despite the excitement and enthusiasm, what we are witnessing in Burkina Faso is not uniquely different from the recent uprisings that brought dictatorships down, and ended up facing power vacuum, political crisis, and instability, especially in African countries - because of the absence of an organized opposition that can pave the way for democratic transition through adopting a constitutional democracy. True, the Burkina Faso’s army, using such a political vacuum and opportunity, and on the pretext of order and stability of the country, it moved in and seized power by dissolving the General Assembly and suspending the constitution. And it declared it formed a transitional government led by one of its own, Lt. Col Isaac Zida, even though the constitution of Burkina Faso states that “the president of the Senate should take over after the national president resigns and an election should take place between 60 and 90 days afterwards.”
In the midst of all this, the African Union and UN are warning of an imminent sanction against the military - an attempt to force the army to form a civilian transition body until elections are held in the country. But these are all toothless threats. It didn’t work in Egypt and in many other countries that recently toppled dictatorial regimes. The brute fact is majority of African leaders are throwing in such a threat of sanction (a provision adopted by African Union few years ago) not out of commitment to democracy and freedom, but out of fear of similar changes and popular uprising that may happen in their own countries.
History has repeatedly shown that African opposition forces are either weak, operate along ethnic and tribal fault lines, easily forced into submission by the army, or cooperate with the military for self enriching, a fundamental reason why popular uprising is always at risk of being hijacked in Africa by self-serving groups, mainly the military establishment and extremists. This is an area where African opposition forces in general and Eritrea’s oppositions in particular need to address at the level of building institutions from bottom up, empowering citizens, and creating a cohesive and united leadership.
Nevertheless, the people of Burkina Faso are holding their ground for now by rejecting the army’s takeover of power. They are aggressively demanding the army to give power and return to its barracks. Time will tell if the opposition forces of Burkina Faso will continue to galvanize the people against the army’s illegal seizure of power by forging unity among various forces under the banner of one message and one cause – an uprising for establishing constitutional democracy. Only then can we dub it an African uprising.
For Eritreans, the lesson from the uprising of Burkina Faso is this: popular uprisings are unpredictable; they are quick and unstoppable like a powerful tsunami given an opportune circumstance. And they can bring down the most powerful dictator in a matter of days. It is also true that in the wake of popular uprising, chaos, instability, and power vacuum is possible. In our country resistance is simmering against the PFDJ regime. And this resistance will explode in the form of popular uprising; it is a matter of time. The question is where are we? And are we doing enough to prevent power vacuum when the day comes to our country. EPDP knows one thing, and that is disorganized and fragmented popular uprising is more dangerous than anything else for our country.
EPDP Information Office
Picking up a timely topic on public diplomacy, Mr. Menghesteab Asmerom, chairman of the Eritrean People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), on November 1, 2014, addressed a gathering of German friends in Frankfurt, briefing them on the refugee phenomenon that has bedeviled Eritrea and its people for the past 50 years.
Organized by a discussion group at Kirchplaz in Frankfurt, the meeting aimed to create awareness among Germans about the frightening social collapse in Eritrea and the worsening refugee exodus of young Eritreans.
Earlier publicized in a leading German daily newspaper as a public seminar on the root cause of the refugee exodus from Eritrea and its possible solutions, the event attracted many German intellectuals and leading figures in Frankfurt, the commercial hub in central Europe.
The EPDP chairman opened the discussion with an introductory background on the refugee problem in Eritrea that started in 1967 and continued till the present time. He explained four waves of refugee exodus from Eritrea and explained their causes including all the hazards Eritrean refugees face in their risky ventures while trying to escape the worse things they left at home.
Mr. Menghesteab Asmerom also dealt on what could be done to at least improve the sad situation. He listed six actions as temporary solutions, and these included: effective support programmes for refugees in the neighbourhood of Eritrea; improvement of relations between Eritrea and its neighbours; abolishing or at least limiting the the period of national service; improvement of governance in refugee-producing countries and others.
Following his presentation, Mr. Mussie Semere, a young party member in Germany, read a summary of the pastoral letter issued last May by four Eritrean Catholic Bishops on the ongoing alarming societal breakdown in Eritrea.
Seminar participants discussed the presentations and raised very important questions regarding the disquieting condition in Eritrea and the plight of its people, including the refugees.
Causes of the Exodus of Eritrean
Refugees and Suggested Solutions
By Menghesteab Asmerom,
Eritrea is a small country with an estimated population of 6 million and a size of about 120,000 square kms. It was established as one colonial territory 124 years ago by Italy. The population is composed of 9 ethnic/linguistic groups and the majority are agriculturalists, nomadic cattle herders and fishermen.
Eritrea has been successively colonized/ruled by Italy, Britain and Ethiopia. The Eritrean people's resistance against its colonizers has taken many forms, peaceful and armed. Eritrea became independent in 1991 after 30-year long (1961-1991) armed struggle against Ethiopian occupation and has become a sovereign nation through an internationally recognized popular referendum 1n 1993.
As we all know, the main causes of human displacements and refugee flows are natural disasters, wars, poverty, bad governance and corruption.
The first wave of Eritrean refugees:-
Eritreans began to flee their country in large numbers in 1967, when the Ethiopian army started to carry its scorched-earth policy by burning and bombarding whole villages in the lowland areas of Eritrea where the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) fighters were active. These refugees were mostly Muslims inhabiting the lowland regions of Eritrea as well as some from the highlands. The first group took refuge in the Sudan.
The second wave of refugees:-
In 1974 Emperor Haileselassie was deposed by a military junta, the Derg. The military junta carried out successive campaigns of terror against the people of Eritrea and intensified its attacks against the Eritrean liberation movements, ELF and EPLF. As a result, many Eritreans were forced to flee their country to the Sudan, the Middle East and even as far as Europe and North America.
The third wave of refugees:-
The cause for this flow of refugees was the civil war in 1980-81 that was waged between the two biggest Eritrean liberation movements. As a result of this, tens of thousands of ELF fighters and civilians were forced to enter the Sudan. Many of these fighters were in due time able to reach Europe and North America through legal and illegal means. More refugees left the country in 1984-85 because of drought and famine.
The fourth wave of refugees:-
This flow of refugees happened after the border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia of 1998-2000 and it has not shown any sign of coming to an end. Nowadays, the cause for the flow of refugees is the open-ended national service. Originally the project was meant for 18 months’ service for Eritreans between the ages of 18-40.
The great majority of the refugees in the ongoing fourth wave are the youth, the majority of whom are under 25 years of age, and, as noted, the main reason why they are fleeing their country is their opposition to the endless national service and the flagrant abuse of their human rights by the one man dictatorial regime in Eritrea.
According to reports of the UN, there are over 300,000 Eritrean registered refugees in the Sudan. Many more stay with their relatives and countrymen without passing through the refugee camps. There are about 150,000 Eritrean refugees in Ethiopian refugee centers.
According to UNHCR estimates, not less than 3,000 Eritrean refugees cross the border and enter into the Sudan every month. Some are killed by the Eritrean border guards while crossing the border.
There are two refugee routes:-
The second route was opened in 2006 when Italy and Libya agreed to curb the flow of refugees to Europe. Israel is holding the refugees in concentration camps because they are considered as illegal infiltrators rather than refugees by the government. It has also entered into bilateral agreements with third countries in Africa to send back refugees.
Smugglers and Human Traffickers:-
The main groups involved in human smuggling in the region are the Rashaida in the Eritrea-Sudan border region and the Bedouin of Sinai. But the network of human traffickers is much more complex. There are Eritrean, Ethiopian, Sudanese, Egyptian, Libyan security and military officials, extremist Islamic parties in addition to doctors and gangs trafficking with arms, drugs and human organs in the network.
Victims are sold several times to successive human traffickers` groups. Every kidnapped refugee has to pay ransom between 2,000 to 50,000 US dollars in order to be released by his/her captors. The captors use different types of torture to force their prey to pay the ransom money. The torture methods used includes beatings, dropping molten plastic on their backs, hanging on the ceilings and rape.
If the victims have relatives in Europe, they are expected to pay a big amount of money. In order to pay the requested money the relatives will be connected to their respective relative through a mobile phone while being tortured and hear his/her sufferings and cries for help to save him/her from his captors.
If the ransom money is not paid, some of the victims’ internal organs are reportedly taken away and sold to human organ traffickers or die under torture.
If for some reason the flow of refugees to Sinai or Libya decreases or dries the criminal gangs kidnap the ones that are registered in the refugee camps whose fate will certainly be the same as their predecessors.
Many refugees die in the deserts due to thirst, hunger, sickness and overcrowding or drown in the high seas. On 3 October 2013 more than 360 Eritreans drowned near the coast of Lampadusa, Italy, a tragedy that shock the world at large.
Pope Francis, who described 3 October as “a day of tears” and “shame” to the world because of its failure to contain such tragedies, inspired many actors to give attention to the situation in Eritrea, including Italy and the European Union.
This inspiration by the Pope also seems to have encouraged four Eritrean Catholic Bishops to issue inside Eritrea on 25 May 2014 a strong pastoral message calling on all Eritreans to act and solve the problem before it gets too late. The message expressed the fear of total societal collapse in Eritrea within a short time unless Eritreans react and stop the unchecked exodus of the young.
What should be done?
1. Until a lasting solution is found, Eritrean refugees in the Sudan, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen must have the right to education, training and employment in their respective countries of asylum.
2. There must be a mechanism to establish permanent peace between Eritrea, Ethiopia and the Sudan.
3. Security must be strengthened in and around the refugee camps in the Sudan and Ethiopia.
4. The marginalized or alienated communities in Sudan and Egypt (The Rashaidas and the Bedouin) should be accommodated in their respective governments and be involved in the affairs of their countries.
5. Eritrea, Ethiopia and the Sudan should coordinate their fight against human traffickers.
6. Political changes must be realized in the refugees’ source country/ies. In Eritrea, for example, if not total change, at least the rule of law should be established in a constitutional state, national service programme be limited or totally abolished, political space be opened, political prisoners released, the military be demobilized and job opportunities created.
This can serve as an opening of our discussion today.
Thank you for listening.
October 17, 2014
Written by: The COI-Eritrea Team
If one were to take a glance at the Eritrean history pages that desperately await an objective scribe and flip from the page of September 1st, 1961 to October 3rd, 2013, the vines of time that bind these two dates would surely appear as if poisoned by a tragic irony. Hamed Idris Awate’s first shot would have appeared as if it were released from the hand of a track inspector signaling the start of a mad race into exile – and October 3rd, 2013, would have been but a glimpse of an episode that earned its horrible notoriety for mercilessly daring to vandalize, with horrific features, what is otherwise a solemn picture of routine exodus. Context and all that remains untold in between these two dates are the only pieces that would spare this exercise of comparison from being a juxtaposition of sorts.
The question of “How did we get here?” is also best answered by history; unhurried in its glorious, detailed manifestation and unraveled with the stinging of brutally honest assessments from our historians and analysts. The pondering of how the people of what was once known as “The Land by the Sea” perished into the sea, divides its rich irony both for the pages of the historians and its poets. The question of “How did we get here?” doesn’t just don an inquisitive feature, but levels a serious suit against the apparent acts of injustices accrued over the years. And this question lingers, grows and chokes the conscience of all who have looked into and at the daunting reality of the human rights violations of Eritreans today.
As it pertains to the exodus of Eritrean citizens, it is often discussed as a neat equation of the push and pull phenomenon. The “push” argument is often understood as a cause that fashions itself as a crisis of the times. When a nation functions lawlessly, however, the “push” factor is not a phase but a consistent and systematic mechanism of rejection & ejection of the citizens by the State. And the decision of a citizen to live in exile, in this context, is an intersection waiting to be crossed and that intersection is not where one is introduced to a motive, but discovers an otherwise unnecessary opportunity to pursue a better life in exile. The Eritrean youth, a majority of those in exodus, is either born into or grows up in a system that, by its very nature of injustice, produces a perpetually uprooted state of being. When one waits for the day to escape lawlessness, that soul’s investment is in a just and peaceful future outside the homeland. If lawlessness compels the citizens of a nation to abandon their country, then the exodus of the citizens is as much of a quest for justice as it is an escape from injustice. Just as much, any aspect of injustice that perpetuates the exodus of its citizens is nothing less than a criminal act that, in essence, can be argued as a case of a masked deportation en masse. It may not be a legal phrase, but what adequately expresses this reality is “Kid aytbelo kemzkheid gbero”: a Tigrigna adage that conveys a deliberate action that executes its aim indirectly. In this case, the PFDJ regime’s action perpetuates the people’s exile.
Exodus is a label that must be unpacked and examined thoroughly; it is not merely people en route, but a set of tangible and abhorrently real testimonies of people with wounds, victims of and witnesses to gruesome violations. When citizens are stripped of their rights to due process, to free elections, to pursue a livelihood, to enjoy their basic liberties and the consequences of such deprivations are deliberate acts and policies of the State, then the consequences that befall on the citizens and what can be leveled against them is not purely circumstantial. But, of course, the mission here is clear: we are here to identify concrete stories of abominable violations of the human rights of Eritreans so that we can provide the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea (COI) what it requires to unequivocally indict those responsible. A sober, meticulous and careful work is what we must engage in and its success is critically dependent on the testimonies of courageous Eritreans everywhere.
The Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea was established because a number of Eritrean activists worked tirelessly over the years to expose the human rights violations of Eritreans to the international community and specifically the UN Human Rights Council. Human Rights Concern-Eritrea was instrumental in forming the necessary connections to ensure this historic decision was expedited, in light of the current human rights situation in Eritrea as well as the tragedies faced by those fleeing. It must be noted without any equivocation, however, that the COI on Eritrea is established as the result of every activist who raised awareness of the injustices and crimes of the regime; every journalist who sought credible news to report; every ordinary Eritrean who provided support and encouragement to these efforts and most importantly every victim and family member who spoke publicly about their personal suffering.
It takes courage to give testimony on behalf of oneself or on behalf of those whose rights were violated by PFDJ. And yes, there may be certain deterrents that discourage one from speaking out; the sense of shame or betrayal are examples of familiar cultural offenses. Nevertheless, the courage to speak out, in this case, is just as much a quest for justice on behalf of an entire nation as it is on behalf of oneself and other victims. To stand up for your rights and for those of your countrywomen and men, is to stand up for the future welfare of the nation that thousands have bled, died and sacrificed for.
While it is important that victims obtain justice for the grave human rights violations they endured, the significance of the COI goes beyond those in the Diaspora able to share their stories. Those who died at the hands of the regime and those still languishing in prisons are obviously not able to come forward and testify. The responsibility to restore dignity to their lives and hold the responsible parties accountable lies with us. Victims should be encouraged to come forward and speak openly about their experience; victims’ families should share their suffering and the rest of us should commend their courage to represent the truth, regardless of a possible hostile reception. As Eritreans used to masking our fears in shame, we are obligated to support and encourage them to come forward and validate this new era of openness instead of clinging to destructive secrecy. It is within our power to influence what the outcome of the COI will be and with power comes responsibility; in this case, we are responsible to the victims of the current Eritrean government, both alive and deceased.
That the Commission of Inquiry on Eritrea is a United Nations construct and thereby deemed untrustworthy may be a valid concern of some Eritreans on both sides of the political aisle. However, this notion can be challenged with vigilance and engagement by all of us, particularly the justice seeking community. What must be emphasized is that the findings and decisions of the COI depend solely on the testimonies and evidence provided by Eritreans. This effort to obtain justice for our victimized brothers and sisters may not conform to the self-reliant and anti-external intervention ideal Eritreans are attached to but it is currently the only legal platform afforded to these victims and their families. As the daily headlines remind us, our youth are fleeing the country to avoid being subjected to various human rights violations and our tragic reality is that this solution is neither safe nor sustainable. The COI will allow the voices of these youth and others to be heard and hopefully hold the criminal element of PFDJ accountable by exposing the abusers and bringing justice to the victims, with the hopes that collective healing and reconciliation are what follows.
We encourage you to visit our website: www.coi-eritrea.org, stay in touch, join us as we continue to work on behalf of those victimized.